Arts & Culture

March 9, 2014

Romantic works in the air for Wichita Symphony Orchestra

The Wichita Symphony Orchestra is getting “romantic.”

The Wichita Symphony Orchestra is getting “romantic.”

Next weekend, the symphony will perform the works of three legendary 19th century composers – Richard Wagner, Franz Liszt and Anton Bruckner. Celebrated pianist William Wolfram will perform Franz Liszt’s Concerto No. 1.

The “Romantic” concert will open with Richard Wagner’s iconic work, “Ride of the Valkyries” from “The Valkyries,” one of the four operas that make up his masterpiece, “The Ring.” Wagner (1813-1883) spent more than two decades composing the iconic operas. This recognizable 5-minute energetic selection was last performed by the WSO in 1952.

“It’s fast moving, mystical and very outward,” said Daniel Hege, the Wichita Symphony Orchestra’s music director and conductor. “Wagner pushed musical barriers.”

After the Valkyries, comes Franz Liszt’s piano concerto. Liszt (1811-1886), a showman and virtuoso pianist, wrote this intricate work after he retired from the stage. Laden with technical demands, this concerto warrants a top performer to be able to keep pace with the works challenging demands. Hege chose internationally renowned pianist William Wolfram for this feat.

“He’s a great artist. A real veteran,” Hege said. “I am very excited to have someone of his stature and virtuosic skill to collaborate with.”

Liszt’s short piece, although written in several movements, is performed without a pause. The work premiered in 1955 with the composer at the piano.

“There’s tremendous technical excitement in the concerto,” said Wolfram, a graduate of The Juilliard School. “It is very lyrical and operatic.”

Wolfram and Hege consider Liszt’s concerto to be both flashy and expressive.

“They are like mini operas on the piano,” Wolfram said. “It’s like a dialogue with a lot of different people talking in the room.”

Some of those “people” are the clarinet, viola and triangle – all of whom have dialogues with the piano.

Wolfram grew up just north of New York City. When he was young, he would travel down the street to his grandmother’s house and play on her baby grand. What he remembers most is composing. Although his parents had an upright instrument for him to use, he preferred working out his childhood compositions on his grandmother’s piano.

Anton Bruckner’s instrument was an organ. This Austrian composer’s colossal work, Symphony no. 4, “Romantic,” will close the concert. Bruckner (1824-1896) was born just a decade after Wagner and Liszt, yet he was influenced by Wagner. However, he kept his own approach, expanding harmonic ranges and using gradual changes in duration.

“Bruckner carved out his own style,” Hege said. “His work was magisterial, patient and colossal.”

Just as one lingers on a journey, in Bruckner’s fourth symphony, every once in a while the music pauses.“It is always moving away from something or toward something,” Hege said. “He’s truly searching.”

And in so doing, Bruckner is inviting the audience to journey with him. At one point, the French horn is used to emulate a hunting party.

“You can almost feel someone running through the hunt,” Hege said.

Hege enjoys conducting all of Bruckner’s nine symphonies, and it’s not because they share the same birthday – more than one century apart.

“I’m so excited to play his music,” Hege said. “People will find something that is so engaging in the way that he brings you in.”

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